Gran Canaria is an incredible island located just off the coast of western Africa and situated a mere few hundred kilometers from the Sahara Desert. Despite its proximity to the continent of Africa, it is actually part of Spain and therefore European. However, when you land, the terrain looks anything but European. The island is volcanic in nature and is part of a series of islands listed here from youngest to oldest: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Gomera, La Palma, and El Hierro. It really feels like a Martian landscape and not something you experience every day. We stayed near Playa del Ingles which is named for English pirates. In fact, in the 1600s over 12,000 English pirates attacked the island from this beach and many passed away. The people of the island named the beach for those pirates who were buried in the area.
Thanks to Paso Chico and the Gran Canaria Patronato de Turismo, we were able to experience this area first hand which is the epicenter of the gay scene in Gran Canaria. Check out my post about Paso Chico here. The island has been known by Europeans as a gay cultural center for many, many years. However, Americans are not as knowledgeable of this fact which is unfortunate because it’s awesome and rather affordable (post-flight)!
The island became a gay center for Europeans as a result of its size and its strategic position for trade. Back in the old days, when trade was carried out by ship, Gran Canaria was the island where most ships would make their final stop before heading to the New World. As a result of so many cultures constantly passing through, the island became a cultural melting pot which allowed for an open-minded subculture of Europe to develop. Hence, LGBT people found a welcoming place in Gran Canaria.
While we were visiting Gran Canaria, we had the opportunity to visit a number of awesome places and have some pretty fantastic experiences. Here are my top 7 experiences…I can see myself returning some time to check out the wonders on each of the other islands.
* Looking for some information about another Canary Island? Learn more about Tenerife here.
1) Pico de Bandama
We road to the top of this natural monument which offered stunning views of the surrounding countryside and cities. The Bandama Natural Monument is a point of geological interest because of the Caldera de Bandama. A very long time ago, this use to be the location of a massive volcano which has now gone extinct. The caldera (or geologically a maar) is located at the meeting point of three cities; Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (the capital), Santa Brigida, and Telde. Interestingly enough, the air is much, much cooler at the top of this area than it is far below in the valley.
Side note: You go around and around and around this mountain to arrive at the top. I became confused and thought I was looking at multiple calderas but there is only one. That certainly made everyone laugh.
2) Roque Nublo
Roque Nublo is a natural symbol of Gran Canaria and is considered to be the heart of the island by many. To get there, you must drive through the mountains of the island as you head towards the location. Then you park and hike up the mountain on a trail meandering through forests of pines for about 40 minutes. The scent is unforgettable as you gaze as mountain flowers and stunning vistas everywhere you turn. Once you arrive to the top, it’s a semi-flat area with tons of huge rocks. But the crowning jewel is Roque Nublo standing at about 67 meters from it’s base and 1,813 meters above sea level. This is a must-see if you care about the natural wonders of any area. The views from the top are breath-taking and the hike itself isn’t too difficult. However, be prepared for shortness of breath and take plenty of water.
Side note: WalkingCanaria.com offers a tour for $55 per person.
3) Finca La Laja
This was my favorite event by far but, of course, I am often biased towards anything that has to do with agronomy. We visited a beautiful farm that has been in the same family for 5 generations called Finca La Laja. The farm cultivates tropical fruits, grapes, and coffee beans all in one place. In fact, it’s the only coffee plantation in Europe but produces small batches. It’s also home to Bodega Los Berrazales where the farmers produce award winning wine. A tour of the farm includes a wine and coffee tasting. Beautiful sights as well as that Canarian hospitality really makes this place incredible.
Side note: The farm also offers a class teaching participants how to make delicious Adobo sauce but you must sign up ahead of time.
4) Las Dunas de Masapalomas
The dunes in Masapalomas are absolutely breathtaking. These are some of the largest dunes I’ve seen so far and they’re very desert-like. In fact, when you begin to walk across these, it feels as though you are walking through the Sahara. Luckily, on the other side is the ocean which is a welcome sight after a long walk across the dunes. This is an excellent place to shoot some photos!
Side note: To get to the gay beach, it is necessary to cross these dunes. At least, that’s the shortest route from the Playa del Ingles area.
Guigui beach is a secluded area so a great place for nude sunbathing but it is difficult to get there. It takes a 4 hour hike to get there followed by a 4 hour hike to get back. Hence, the reason it is secluded. The best way to get to this awesome beach is by chartering passage on a private boat. Then it’s a short ride and a bit of a swim. Be sure to take your shoes with you as it is a black sand beach. The sand is scorching hot and not suitable for bare feet. However, the view is wonderful and the seclusion is welcome.
Side note: Canariasgay.com provided us with our charter boat needs. It is a gay boat company and they are awesome. They even made us paella on the beach.
6) Festival San Juan
We happened to visit Gran Canaria during the Summer solstice which also happens to coincide with the Festival of San Juan. Head to Playa del Ingles on the night of the Summer solstice and prepare for a treat. A crazy parade takes place on the beach in celebration. We sort of danced in the parade as we followed it. Later that night, at midnight, people walk into the ocean backwards while eating fruit as a tribute to the summer solstice. It was quite an awesome cultural experience.
Side note: This obviously only happens at a specific time of the year. There are other festivals that take place in Masapalomas including Carnaval which is the largest and most popular.
Of course, no visit to Gran Canaria would be complete with out a visit to the Yumbo Center in Masapalomas which happens to be located directly across the road from Paso Chico. Yumbo is a maze of a complex filled to the brim with restaurants, bars, drag bars, dance clubs, and shopping. During the day it is a bit low key and quiet but at night, it springs to life. It’s definitely worth exploring especially because all the gay bars and clubs call Yumbo home.
Side note: Want a good deal? If you are with a large group, just ask. We found out everything is negotiable at restaurants and bars.
These are just a few of my favorite places and experiences from our stay in Gran Canaria. There is so much more to explore and it’s all waiting for you on a small island of the coast of Northwestern Africa. Experience the island life in a warm, welcoming environment!
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